888.Net.Apps (638.2777) | 703.299.1580 | Netlink Resource Group

NetLink Adaptive Process

Harvey Keitel’s “The Wolf” from Pulp Fiction: Sometimes We Also Serve As IT Clean-Up Guys

One of the most entertaining performances in Quentin Tarantino’s classic film “Pulp Fiction,” was Harvey Keitel’s portrayal of “The Wolf,” who served as a highly effective and professional “clean-up guy” after Vincent Vega (played by John Travolta) made a major tactical error with his gun.

While the world of IT is much different (and, luckily, safer) than the criminal underworld portrayed by Tarantino in this film, I sometimes find that we play a similar “clean up” role with major IT projects started by previous consultants that tried to implement a customized web solution, but made their own tactical errors and veered seriously off course.

The goal of this post is not to tout how much more effective we are than other web solutions providers.  There are many consulting firms that can deliver quality projects on time and on budget, and it would be disingenuous to suggest that all of our projects have been flawlessly implemented.  Instead, I would like to share my insights, based upon 20+ years of managing IT projects (mainframe, client-server, and web-based), on some of the main reasons why efforts tend to go awry.

____________________________________________________________________

1) Poor definition of the project requirements — Both IT and business people seem to understand the need for properly defining requirements, yet it is often the main cause of why projects fall short of their purpose and go off-track.  I believe the project manager/lead consultant needs to have the skill set to start with high-level goals and engage the project sponsors/subject matter experts (SMEs) to dig into the details at a level necessary for the development team to provide solutions that meet the needs of the project.

It’s also important to document what comes out of this interaction so that both the sponsors and IT team have a common document everyone can understand and use throughout the project.  The project’s level of complexity should dictate the level of detail needed for the requirements/specifications to be an effective document to make the project a success.  And the document should be updated throughout the project so it represents the most current version of what the sponsors want and the IT team should deliver.

2) Lack of a descriptive, usable project plan — Like the requirements, the project plan should be written to the level of detail needed for the project sponsors and IT team to understand what needs to be done, when, and by whom.  It too should be a living, breathing document that is constantly evaluated and updated according to the latest requirements and information learned from the ongoing effort.

We have been asked to step in on projects that are off-course where the project plan was created at the onset of an effort and never revisited, as if its sole purpose was to provide the client with a document to reassure them that a plan would be followed, for the sake of getting the business.  The plan ended up sitting on a virtual shelf somewhere and the IT team went off in their own direction, without concrete deliverables or timelines that the client could track.

The purpose of the project plan is to use it as a tool for managing the effort.  It should set the expectations of the sponsors and the IT team for what remains to be accomplished to ensure the effort is on track.  If it’s not used this way, it’s a sure sign that the project is headed for problems.

3) Providing solutions to the client too late in the project — It’s fine to espouse the virtues of an iterative process on a project, but it’s another thing to have the discipline to actually adhere to it.  The basic tenets of our approach are “interact and iterate.”  The requirements and project plan require a significant amount of interaction, while the development effort needs to break up deliverables into reasonable pieces to allow for iterations of the solution to be evaluated by the client as early as possible.

The purpose of providing solutions in smaller portions, modules, “chunks”, etc. is to mitigate the risk that the IT team has missed the mark and ensure they are in sync with the needs of the client.  The only way this will be accomplished is through good initial planning and identifying which portions of the system will be delivered and when, based upon the project plan.
____________________________________________________________________

Over the last seven years of managing client efforts at NetLink, we have sometimes been asked to step in and play the role of “The Wolf”, e.g. “IT clean-up guys”, for projects that have gone awry.  Fortunately, none of the efforts we’ve undertaken for our clients have required this form of outside intervention.

I would attribute this to the use of our project approach, the NetLink Adaptive Process™. But, more importantly, it’s the discipline to adhere to the execution of the process that determines the outcome of an IT project.  And following the process for your project is much more preferable than having to call in “The Wolf” to clean it up.

Posted by: Steve Short, President, NetLink Resource Group

It’s Business Time: Critical for IT to Support Overall Business Goals

By providing unique offerings to the markets they serve, companies and organizations can become truly competitive, and even reach unprecedented levels of success.  For example, Apple has created a pioneering product – and sparked major consumer demand — with the iPad.   Competitive tablet makers are frantically playing catch-up.  And, will they ever catch up?  Do you recall what happened with Microsoft’s Zune?

Whether your offering is business- or consumer-based, a product or service, differentiation is the key to gaining competitive advantage.  And, a major driver for this differentiation is information technology.  Moreover, when IT is completely aligned with an organization’s business goals, then the opportunities are limitless:

– Internal and external business processes are improved

– Companies operate in a more effective and efficient manner

– Better access to the right information for making key decisions

– More market opportunities are identified

– Competitive differentiation increases.

While the concept of IT and business goals being aligned seems simple, it is often a rather elusive thing for many IT people to grasp.  Why?  Because most technology folks are focused more on the implementation, or the technology itself, as opposed to focusing on how it will impact the business.  I have seen this throughout my career, a great deal of which has been spent in large corporate IT departments supporting internal clients, but also while providing software and consulting to outside clients.  A common mistake is that many IT people tend to stab blindly in the dark to determine solutions first without really listening to the client’s requirements and business needs.

Unfortunately, my experience indicates that most business and IT people do not understand the difference between requirements and solutions, which causes a problem from the onset of a project, when needs and goals are initially being discussed.  I have been involved in projects where the business sponsors come in with detailed screen mock-ups and expect the IT team to develop the application based upon them.  This is an immediate red flag for me, because I believe the IT team needs to start at a high level of understanding the project’s business goals and progressively dig into the details so they can use their many years of experience developing applications to interact with the client to formulate better solutions, in terms of functionality, usability, and architectural flexibility, than what was originally conceived.

The opposite end of the spectrum occurs when business people indicate that they have no understanding of technology.  We sometimes hear a sponsor say “I’m not technical and I can’t talk about IT details.”  That’s alright from my perspective because it’s my responsibility as the lead consultant to bridge the gap between the business and technical side of a project.  We start with understanding the basic goals and requirements, then allow our development team to provide solutions in an iterative manner to ensure we are on the right track.  When this happens, it’s amazing how often we get a response of “Wow, that’s great and really close to what we envisioned.”

So, if you are a business sponsor of an IT development effort, regardless of whether you are using internal or external resources, you need to be confident that your IT team first understands the business goals of your project.  Next, they should be clarifying your requirements before they are jumping to suggesting specific solutions.  And finally, there needs to be some discipline in the project approach, so that a project plan and requirements document are written, kept current, and used as a true tool for the entire team so those business goals can be met.  It’s easy to talk about approach, but there’s really no substitution for good execution.  If you’re not getting these things from your IT team, it’s likely that your effort will fall short of your expectations.

I simply believe that any IT effort that does not align with business goals will waste a client’s valuable time and resources.   And, when companies and organizations make such a significant investment in IT, the results have to move the needle when it comes to business growth.  Otherwise, why are we doing it?

Posted by: Steve Short, President, NetLink Resource Group

Successful IT Implementations: It’s All About The Details

The age-old expression “the devil is in the details” speaks to the sheer fact that if details are overlooked, bad things often happen.

In the business world, the details can be the deciding factor between success or failure.  You may recall that many banks during the peak of the housing boom fast-tracked mortgages and ignored many vital details during the lending process that hurt both the lenders and the prospective homeowners.

NetLink recently sponsored a BWI Business Partnership event where David Marriott, COO of Marriott International’s Americas Eastern Region, spoke and cited “attention to detail” as one of three reasons why his organization has been so successful over the last 70+ years.  It’s probably no coincidence that we have been fortunate to count Marriott among our clients for more than 10 years, because we embrace this same perspective.

When it comes to successful IT implementations, it’s not the devil that’s in the details, but that the details hold the key to bringing custom web applications to life that meet and exceed expectations.

We actually have a methodology for managing our client engagements called The NetLink Adaptive Process that mitigates many common risks of IT projects.   The core tenet of this process is focusing on every key detail throughout the implementation.  This, combined with taking an “iterative” approach whereby we follow a concise step-by-step process for projects, ensures that superior solutions are delivered to clients within schedule and budget commitments.

Conversely, as many clients have complex requirements and needs, turnkey web options – which we dare say are not often “detail focused” – may only partially address these needs.  Customized solutions typically are required to meet complex goals.  This is where the implementation details mean everything for ensuring that a complex web application aligns with the client’s business goals.

So, if it is true that the “devil is in the details,” then that is a devil that organizations should embrace wholeheartedly.  We have been using this same detail-oriented approach since 1996 to truly deliver the promise of web solutions.

Posted by: Steve Short, President, NetLink Resource Group